Sen. McGee strikes out swinging 

In the Montana Legislature, the definition of “political hardball” seems to be as nebulous as this session’s budget fix. When the Independent referred to Sen. Dan McGee’s effort to cut support for reproductive health as political hardball (see “When irony enters the womb,” by David Madison, Feb. 27, 2003 and “Etc.,” March 27, 2003), McGee complained the term didn’t apply to him. But after McGee’s Senate Bill 274—which would have had the public decide whether or not the state had a compelling interest in the unborn—failed, the senator went on to Plan B: a House Bill 2 amendment that would have effectively stripped Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers of funding.

“This is birth control and sex education information,” says Morgan Sheets, executive director of Montana NARAL [National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League]. “But this is also breast and cervical cancer screenings and the treatment and diagnosis of sexually transmitted infections. This is a wide range of pretty essential programs to Montanans.”

But McGee swung a strike even with Plan B. On April 8, McGee’s amendment failed on a 25-25 vote—one more vote for the amendment would have passed it on to the House. The amendment wouldn’t have affected abortions at Planned Parenthood or Blue Mountain Clinic because Title X [a program to reduce unintended pregnancies] money can’t be used for abortions. Instead it would have eliminated the services these clinics provide to low-income women.

Sheets says that McGee’s amendment was actually just a shell of its former incarnation. Originally the amendment cast a much wider net.

“He was talking about a whole range of programs, not only Title X services,” she says. “It appeared he was talking about things like the woman, infant and children nutrition program and some of the well-childcare and infant programs.”

Most likely that amendment would have failed spectacularly, she says. But in the end, McGee pared his bill down to relate directly to abortion providers.

Now that McGee’s efforts have failed during the session, it’s time for a revision of Plan A—the senator plans to take his message of the state’s compelling interest in the unborn to the people with an initiative. He may not be winning the game of political hardball, but he is definitely getting a ribbon for effort.

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